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An Eclectic Digest of Science, Art and Literature



Modified: 2017-11-24T16:40:23Z

 



Historically, men translated the Odyssey; here’s what happened when a woman took the job

2017-11-24T16:40:23Z

Anna North in Vox: The Odyssey is about a man. It says so right at the beginning — in Robert Fagles’s 1996 translation, for example, the poem opens with the line, “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man...Anna North in Vox: The Odyssey is about a man. It says so right at the beginning — in Robert Fagles’s 1996 translation, for example, the poem opens with the line, “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns.” In the course of the poem, that man plots his return home after fighting the Trojan War, slaughters the suitors vying to marry his wife Penelope, and reestablishes himself as the head of his household. But the Odyssey is also about other people: Penelope, the nymph Calypso, the witch Circe, the princess Nausicaa; Odysseus’s many shipmates who died before they could make it home; the countless slaves in Odysseus’s house, many of whom are never named. Emily Wilson, the first woman to translate the Odyssey into English, is as concerned with these surrounding characters as she is with Odysseus himself. Written in plain, contemporary language and released earlier this month to much fanfare, her translationlays bare some of the inequalities between characters that other translations have elided. It offers not just a new version of the poem, but a new way of thinking about it in the context of gender and power relationships today. As Wilson puts it, “the question of who matters is actually central to what the text is about.” More here. [...]



Scientific Proof Is A Myth

2017-11-24T16:03:27Z

Ethan Siegel in Forbes: You've heard of our greatest scientific theories: the theory of evolution, the Big Bang theory, the theory of gravity. You've also heard of the concept of a proof, and the claims that certain pieces of evidence...

Ethan Siegel in Forbes:

(image) You've heard of our greatest scientific theories: the theory of evolution, the Big Bang theory, the theory of gravity. You've also heard of the concept of a proof, and the claims that certain pieces of evidence prove the validities of these theories. Fossils, genetic inheritance, and DNA prove the theory of evolution. The Hubble expansion of the Universe, the evolution of stars, galaxies, and heavy elements, and the existence of the cosmic microwave background prove the Big Bang theory. And falling objects, GPS clocks, planetary motion, and the deflection of starlight prove the theory of gravity.

Except that's a complete lie. While they provide very strong evidence for those theories, they aren't proof. In fact, when it comes to science, proving anything is an impossibility.

Reality is a complicated place. All we have to guide us, from an empirical point of view, are the quantities we can measure and observe. Even at that, those quantities are only as good as the tools and equipment we use to make those observations and measurements. Distances and sizes are only as good as the measuring sticks you have access to; brightness measurements are only as good as your ability to count and quantify photons; even time itself is only known as well as the clock you have to measure its passage. No matter how good our measurements and observations are, there's a limit to how good they are.

More here.

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Holland's Barriers to The Sea

2017-11-24T15:58:20Z

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What We Owe the Innocent Victims of America’s Wars

2017-11-24T15:53:34Z

Patrick Leahy in the New York Times: In “The Uncounted,” their article in The New York Times Magazine last week, Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal laid bare a tragic reality of American military operations against the Islamic State: the untold...Patrick Leahy in the New York Times: In “The Uncounted,” their article in The New York Times Magazine last week, Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal laid bare a tragic reality of American military operations against the Islamic State: the untold harm inflicted on civilians. That the Islamic State is guilty of horrific atrocities is common knowledge. But most Americans seem unaware of the human toll of our own actions, the consequences this has for our national security and our reputation, and that too often the civilian casualties we cause are the result of avoidable mistakes. This must change. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the number of violent extremist groups has grown across multiple continents. From Syria to Somalia to Pakistan, the United States is combating many of these groups — usually with bombs and missiles. Large numbers of innocent people are invariably caught in the middle. There are practical ways that we can improve how we protect civilians as we fight violent extremists. These changes will improve our military operations and make our country safer in the long run. More here. [...]



Living Orients: An LRB podcast with Olivier Roy and Adam Shatz

2017-11-24T15:47:09Z

Over at the LRB: Olivier Roy, professor at the European Institute in Florence and writer on political Islam, tells Adam Shatz about his experiences with the Gauche prolétarienne in the 1960s and his early travels in Afghanistan. This is part...

Over at the LRB:

Olivier Roy, professor at the European Institute in Florence and writer on political Islam, tells Adam Shatz about his experiences with the Gauche prolétarienne in the 1960s and his early travels in Afghanistan. This is part one of a two-part podcast. Listen to Part Two »

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Sexual harassment doesn't just happen to actors or journalists. Talk to a waitress, or a cleaner

2017-11-24T15:43:12Z

Alissa Quart and Barbara Ehrenreich in The Guardian: There certainly is room for outrage about both the mistreatment of thespians and models, and the manhandling of waitresses or women picking berries in the fields (We should try for a both/and... Alissa Quart and Barbara Ehrenreich in The Guardian: There certainly is room for outrage about both the mistreatment of thespians and models, and the manhandling of waitresses or women picking berries in the fields (We should try for a both/and campaign. It could be called #MostofThem!). Then again, that inclusive strategy rests on a tacit assumption that the airing of the pain of, say, actor Mira Sorvino will inevitably help less well-born women. And we think the associative property here is probably a fallacy. It’s basically a trickle-down theory of female empowerment. We know how well trickle-down theories of all kinds tend to pan out. So how can we excavate the vast iceberg of sexual harassment that lies beneath the glittering tip of celebrity abuse? This is a powerful moment for sharing our stories, but it can sometimes feel like we are only reproducing class divisions that have long existed in the feminist movement – where we are aware of the elegant suffering of celebrity comics, businesswomen and starlets but not those of the working mothers who are handing us our fries or fluffing our pillows. We are not seeing the way the latter are harassed in so many other ways. Working-class women regularly have their purses searched (ostensibly for stolen goods) or are expected to work overtime without pay. This kind of casual hassling is part of the general humiliation that most low-wage workplaces inflict. More here. [...]



How do the Pilgrims relate to immigrants today?

2017-11-24T14:12:18Z

Randy Dotinga in The Christian Science Monitor: Thanksgiving isn't just an opportunity for kids to discover they can draw turkey outlines with their hands. It's a time for history buffs to ponder the Pilgrims, those complicated characters who left an...Randy Dotinga in The Christian Science Monitor: Thanksgiving isn't just an opportunity for kids to discover they can draw turkey outlines with their hands. It's a time for history buffs to ponder the Pilgrims, those complicated characters who left an ever-confounding American legacy. British author Rebecca Fraser brings the Pilgrims to vivid life in her new book The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America. In an interview, Fraser – the daughter of famed historian Lady Antonia Fraser – talks about the immigrant status of the Pilgrims, their civic dreams, and their surprisingly friendly relationships with Native Americans. "However clichéd," she says, "there is a good deal of truth in the Mayflower legend!"   Q: You describe how many of the Pilgrims were treated in Holland with the disrespect that immigrants so often encounter today – forced to live in hovels and take low-level jobs that nobody else wants. Do you connect them to immigrants of our time? As I was writing this book, the plight of refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa began to be very visible in Europe. The parallel for me was that a lot of these people are like the Pilgrims – many had professional qualifications in their own countries. Today’s refugees are surgeons and doctors and lawyers who have nothing to show their status in their home country. One of the most important Pilgrim leaders was an ex-diplomat who descended from a long line of members of Parliament, and many others came from wealthy families. The Pilgrims had to leave England because there was a clampdown by King James I. To practice their religion, they had to live in Holland, which was in favor of all Protestants, and in the town of Leiden, whose town government gave financial support to all reformed foreign churches that sought sanctuary within its walls. But the downside of Leiden was that the Pilgrims had to abandon their homes and work for Dutch cloth manufacturers who exploited them. Spending 12 hours at their looms was normal. And like most refugees, they were living in pretty unpleasant circumstances because they had very little money. Q: What did the Pilgrims hope to find in America? Freedom to worship and also to be English, not Dutch. They were patriotic!  More here. [...]



Hard Time: roots of the criminal-justice crisis

2017-11-24T14:05:38Z

Chase Madar in Bookforum: American punitiveness—in our policing, courts, prisons, and law—can’t be fully understood outside the context of white supremacy. Louisiana’s state penitentiary is on the site of a former plantation called Angola, so named because that was where...Chase Madar in Bookforum: American punitiveness—in our policing, courts, prisons, and law—can’t be fully understood outside the context of white supremacy. Louisiana’s state penitentiary is on the site of a former plantation called Angola, so named because that was where its slaves came from; black men in bondage continue to farm the land. And the incarceration rate for black men in the USis an astronomical 2,207 per 100,000, nearly six times the rate for white men and higher than in South Africa under apartheid. In recent years, videos of lethal police violence against unarmed African Americans have become a constant on TV and online, making the problem virally visible. Two new books, part of an ongoing bumper crop of necessary writing on criminal justice in the US, explore the relationship between black America and our steroidal punishment system. James Forman Jr. and Paul Butler are both lawyers turned academics who regularly publish in legal journals and the mainstream press. They combine scholarly erudition with a practical knowledge of how the system works, writing with hard-won clarity about prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, witnesses, victims, and offenders. Approaching the same broad subject, both have produced immensely valuable books written from very different perspectives. One of Forman’s many talents is his ability to make radical, unsettling points in the calmest of voices. For example, his 2009 article “Exporting Harshness” makes a convincing case that the so-called excesses of the war on terror are not aberrations. They are, he argues, fairly consistent with the norms of the American penal system, and if they have been harder to ignore, that’s because they have occurred in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, where they have attracted press attention and international outrage. Although journalists have described domestic law-enforcement abuses as the war on terror “coming home” and adopted CIA terms like black site to describe police torture facilities in Chicago, Forman suggests it would make more sense to refer to Abu Ghraib as a Mesopotamian Rikers Island. In his bracing (but always generous) 2012 critique of Michelle Alexander’s best seller The New Jim Crow (2010), Forman takes on an even more firmly established piece of conventional wisdom. Alexander’s thesis has become dogma among liberal criminal-justice reformers: Namely, mass incarceration is driven by a racist backlash against civil-rights advances, carried out under cover of the war on drugs. Her argument rests in part on the widely held belief that most inmates are nonviolent drug offenders, but Forman points out that only about 25 percent of our prison population fits this description. While it’s undeniable that racism is one of the most powerful engines of our punitive state, Forman asserts that the metaphor of mass incarceration as neo–Jim Crow is limited: “In emphasizing mass incarceration’s racial roots, the New Jim Crow writers overlook other critical factors,” such as the steady rise in violent crime rates from 1960 to the early ’90s and the broad support for disciplinary overkill in overwhelmingly white places like Idaho and Wyoming, which have also seen a steep climb in incarceration rates. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 35 percent of the nation’s prisoners were black in 2015. Though that’s an undeniable overrepresentation of black America’s 13 percent share of the overall population, it means the other 65 percent of US prisoners were nonblack. As Forman writes, “Tha[...]



Friday Poem

2017-11-24T12:41:19Z

The Moon Rose Over the Bay. I had a Lot of Feelings I am taken with the hot animal of my skin, grateful to swing my limbs and have them move as I intend, though |my knee, though my shoulder,...The Moon Rose Over the Bay. I had a Lot of Feelings I am taken with the hot animalof my skin, grateful to swing my limbs and have them move as I intend, though|my knee, though my shoulder, though somethingis torn or tearing. Today, a dozen squid, dead on the harbor beach: one mostly buried,one with skin empty as a shell and hollow feeling, and, though the tentacles look soft,I do not touch them. I imagine theywere startled to find themselves in the sun. I imagine the tide simply went outwithout them. I imagine they cannot feel the black flies charting the raised hillsof their eyes. I write my name in the sand:Donika Kelly. I watch eighteen seagulls skim the sandbar and lift low in the sky.I pick up a pebble that looks like a green egg. To the ditch lily I say I am in love.To the Jeep parked haphazardly on the narrowstreet I am in love. To the roses, white petals rimmed brown, to the yellow linedpavement, to the house trimmed in gold I amin love. I shout with the rough calculusof walking. Just let me find my way back,let me move like a tide come in.. by Donika Kelly. from the Academy of American Poets, 2017 [...]



Anthony Bourdain: By the Book

2017-11-23T18:37:44Z

From the New York Times: What books are on your nightstand? I’m currently reading Thomas Ricks’s “Churchill and Orwell. Graham Greene’s memoir, “Ways of Escape,” is a book I’ve read many times but keep coming back to. John Williams’s “Stoner”...From the New York Times: What books are on your nightstand? I’m currently reading Thomas Ricks’s “Churchill and Orwell. Graham Greene’s memoir, “Ways of Escape,” is a book I’ve read many times but keep coming back to. John Williams’s “Stoner” is on top of the stack of “To Be Read” books, next to Mark Lanegan’s “I Am the Wolf,” Moravia’s “Roman Tales” and “Agitator,” an overview of the films of Takashi Miike. What’s the last great book you read? Truly great? Charles Portis’s “True Grit” is a masterpiece. Don’t settle for seeing the film versions. One of the great heroines of all time and a magnificent book filled with great dialogue. What influences your decisions about which books to read? Word of mouth, reviews, a trusted friend? Friends often recommend books, and I’m loyal to authors whose past works I’ve enjoyed. I’m a hunter of footnotes. If I’m heavily interested in a particular historical subject, I will often track down everything I can find on it. I can disappear down a rathole of books on, say, the history of the Congo or special operations in Southeast Asia for years. The Kennedy assassination, for instance, took me on a decade-long journey through the history of organized crime, the C.I.A., French intelligence, the French Algerian conflict, the Vietnam War, Castro’s Cuba and the history of the K.G.B. I’m like that. More here. [...]



New Zealand’s War on Rats Could Change the World

2017-11-23T18:30:25Z

Ed Yong in The Atlantic: In recent years, many of the country’s conservationists and residents have rallied behind Predator-Free 2050, an extraordinarily ambitious plan to save the country’s birds by eradicating its invasive predators. Native birds of prey will be...Ed Yong in The Atlantic: In recent years, many of the country’s conservationists and residents have rallied behind Predator-Free 2050, an extraordinarily ambitious plan to save the country’s birds by eradicating its invasive predators. Native birds of prey will be unharmed, but Predator-Free 2050’s research strategy, which is released today, spells doom for rats, possums, and stoats (a large weasel). They are to die, every last one of them. No country, anywhere in the world, has managed such a task in an area that big. The largest island ever cleared of rats, Australia’s Macquarie Island, is just 50 square miles in size. New Zealand is 2,000 times bigger. But, the country has committed to fulfilling its ecological moonshot within three decades. Beginning as a grassroots movement, Predator-Free 2050 has picked up huge public support and official government backing. Former Minister for Conservation Maggie Barry once described the initiative as “the most important conservation project in the history of our country.” If it works, Zealandia’s fence would be irrelevant; the entire nation would be a song-filled sanctuary where kiwis trundle unthreatened and kakapos once again boom through the night. By coincidence, the rise of the Predator-Free 2050 conceit took place alongside the birth of a tool that could help make it a reality—CRISPR, the revolutionary technique that allows scientists to edit genes with precision and ease. More here. [...]



How a half-educated tech elite delivered us into chaos

2017-11-23T18:24:53Z

John Naughton in The Guardian: One of the biggest puzzles about our current predicament with fake news and the weaponisation of social media is why the folks who built this technology are so taken aback by what has happened. Exhibit...John Naughton in The Guardian: One of the biggest puzzles about our current predicament with fake news and the weaponisation of social media is why the folks who built this technology are so taken aback by what has happened. Exhibit A is the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, whose political education I recently chronicled. But he’s not alone. In fact I’d say he is quite representative of many of the biggest movers and shakers in the tech world. We have a burgeoning genre of “OMG, what have we done?” angst coming from former Facebook and Google employees who have begun to realise that the cool stuff they worked on might have had, well, antisocial consequences. Put simply, what Google and Facebook have built is a pair of amazingly sophisticated, computer-driven engines for extracting users’ personal information and data trails, refining them for sale to advertisers in high-speed data-trading auctions that are entirely unregulated and opaque to everyoneexcept the companies themselves. The purpose of this infrastructure was to enable companies to target people with carefully customised commercial messages and, as far as we know, they are pretty good at that. (Though some advertisers are beginning to wonder if these systems are quite as good as Google and Facebook claim.) And in doing this, Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and co wrote themselves licences to print money and build insanely profitable companies. It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters.  More here. [...]



The Bass Sound of Tina Weymouth

2017-11-23T18:13:24Z

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Nathaniel Hawthorne's ''John Inglefield's Thanksgiving."

2017-11-23T14:53:00Z

Me at The Smart Set: It takes Satan to bring out the true spirit of Thanksgiving. That’s because it can be hard to give thanks unless you know why you are doing it. Plenitude is lovely. Abundance is a delight....Me at The Smart Set: It takes Satan to bring out the true spirit of Thanksgiving. That’s because it can be hard to give thanks unless you know why you are doing it. Plenitude is lovely. Abundance is a delight. I think of the famous painting by Norman Rockwell. A large American family sits around a comfortable table as the venerable mother carries a moose-sized turkey as the centerpiece. The painting was originally titled “Freedom from Want” and was part of Rockwell’s Four Freedoms series, meant to promote the buying of war bonds during World War II. If there is an unsettling message hidden in the Rockwellian sentimentality, though, it’s that these people, this nice American family, knows nothing of want. They are giving thanks for an abundance that is taken for granted. When the devil is on your doorstep, however, thanks takes on a different timbre. The American most consistently preoccupied with thoughts of Satan was probably Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne never trusted in the good times. He saw the devil lurking in every moment of pleasure, waiting for the chance to pounce on the unsuspecting reveler when his guard was down. Hawthorne’s story, “John Inglefield’s Thanksgiving,” is appropriately evil-obsessed. Utterly bleak, it is a difficult fit in the traditional American story of goods asked for, goods delivered, thanks given. more here. [...]



Carolee Schneemann Finally Gets Her Due

2017-11-23T15:39:53Z

Jillian Steinhauer at The New Republic: If you know one thing about Carolee Schneemann, chances are it’s that, during a performance in the 1970s, she pulled a scroll out of her vagina and read the text on it aloud. She... Jillian Steinhauer at The New Republic: If you know one thing about Carolee Schneemann, chances are it’s that, during a performance in the 1970s, she pulled a scroll out of her vagina and read the text on it aloud. She actually did this twice—once in 1975 and again two years later, with a different scroll each time. Those performances, both titled Interior Scroll, have come to define her career.It’s not hard to see why. The work seems to distill perfectly Schneemann’s concerns over the last more than 60 years: the liberation of the female body, the celebration of the vagina, the possibility for a woman to be both artistic subject and object, the effects of patriarchy and sexism. Both of the texts Schneemann inscribed on her scrolls are drawn from other artworks she’d been working on at the time, but they also function as feminist treatises; both offer sharp commentary on the way women’s work is often belittled. The first, excerpted from her book Cézanne, She Was a Great Painter (1975), reads if you are a woman (and things are not utterly changed) they will almost never believe you really did it (what you did do) more here. [...]






Young Again: How One Cell Turns Back Time

2017-11-23T12:44:33Z

Carl Zimmer in The New York Times: None of us was made from scratch. Every human being develops from the fusion of two cells, an egg and a sperm, that are the descendants of other cells. The lineage of cells...Carl Zimmer in The New York Times: None of us was made from scratch. Every human being develops from the fusion of two cells, an egg and a sperm, that are the descendants of other cells. The lineage of cells that joins one generation to the next — called the germline — is, in a sense, immortal. Biologists have puzzled over the resilience of the germline for 130 years, but the phenomenon is still deeply mysterious. Over time, a cell’s proteins become deformed and clump together. When cells divide, they pass that damage to their descendants. Over millions of years, the germline ought to become too devastated to produce healthy new life. “You take humans — they age two, three or four decades, and then they have a baby that’s brand new,” said K. Adam Bohnert, a postdoctoral researcher at Calico Life Sciences in South San Francisco, Calif. “There’s some interesting biology there we just don’t understand.” On Thursday in the journal Nature, Dr. Bohnert and Cynthia Kenyon, vice president for aging research at Calico, reported the discovery of one way in which the germline stays young. Right before an egg is fertilized, it is swept clean of deformed proteins in a dramatic burst of housecleaning. The researchers discovered this process by studying a tiny worm called Caenorhabditis elegans. The worm has been a favorite of biologists for 50 years because its inner workings are much the same as our own. C. elegans relies on many of the same genes that we do to control the division of cells, for example, and to program faulty cells to commit suicide. In 1993, Dr. Kenyon discovered that a gene called daf-2 greatly influenced the life span of these worms. Shutting down the gene more than doubled the worm’s lifetime from 18 days to 42 days. That finding, which Dr. Kenyon made while a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, led to the discovery of an entire network of genes involved in repairing cells, allowing animals to live longer. Humans depend on similar genes to repair our cells, too. “Cynthia really pioneered the field of aging and rejuvenation using C. elegans,” said Irina M. Conboy, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley.  More here. [...]



Thursday Poem

2017-11-23T12:42:35Z

Vocable —excerpt —for JKG Ninety now, you’re adrift on the vowel-stream, the crisp edge of all your five languages gone and we’re back to the least of language. It’s all one, your, his or my slight modulations of the bare...Vocable —excerpt —for JKG  Ninety now, you’re adrift on the vowel-stream, the crisp edge of all your five languages gone and we’re back to the least of language. It’s all one, your, his or my slight modulations of the bare vowel of animal need . . . though even there  how they give us away, our vowel sounds:  class, place, family secrets, the wrong  school or side of the blanket or overstayed  visa, let slip, between one consonant  and the next. ...................... Erect  a fence of plosives, dentals and fricatives  as we will . . . in times of war and weather  we can’t stem the vowel-flood; it will swell,  barely articulate. No border can contain it; it will seep, erode, find  cracks; it will break through. . by Philip Gross from Deep Field publisher: Bloodaxe, Tarset, 2011 Editor's Note: An extract from the poem “Vocable”, from the collection Deep Field [...]



Authenticity and Modernity

2017-11-23T04:30:00Z

Andrew Bowie in AIA News: In Sincerity and Authenticity (1972) liberal critic Lionel Trilling distinguished between two particular ways of being in the modern world. Being ‘sincere’ (from Latin sincerus, of things, ‘whole, clean, pure, uninjured, unmixed’), ‘true to oneself’...Andrew Bowie in AIA News: In Sincerity and Authenticity (1972) liberal critic Lionel Trilling distinguished between two particular ways of being in the modern world. Being ‘sincere’ (from Latin sincerus, of things, ‘whole, clean, pure, uninjured, unmixed’), ‘true to oneself’ by not ‘dissembling’, becomes an ideal during the early emergence of bourgeois individualism. Its new significance coincides with the increase in social mobility, mobility which also offered more chances for pretending to be what one wasn’t. Shakespeare’s plays often deal with this issue. However, being true to oneself by not pretending to be other than one’s social role dictates subsequently often comes to be seen as merely a kind of conformism that precisely lacks ‘authenticity’. This demands doing things on one’s own authority, which can be seen in terms of being ‘author of oneself’. Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew (1761), a dialogue with an eccentric man who is able to play character roles at will but who cannot stably adhere to any role for himself, explores the problems associated with self-authorship, and Hegel quotes the text in the Phenomenology of Spirit when explicating modern forms of consciousness. Authenticity, then, demands truth to oneself of a different order from sincerity. Trilling dramatises this by reference to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, where the atrocities committed by Kurtz (which are based on the genocide committed by the Belgians in the Congo in the 19th century) are seen as linked to his plumbing the depths of what he is capable of: being ‘true to oneself’ here leads to sheer horror. More here. [...]



Kip Thorne, the man who helped prove Einstein correct weighs in on America's startling science gap

2017-11-23T04:16:00Z

Patt Morrison in the Los Angeles Times: My perception is that that urgency about science has drifted away. There may be an indifference to science, even a hostility to science in some quarters. That’s also my impression in the United...Patt Morrison in the Los Angeles Times: My perception is that that urgency about science has drifted away. There may be an indifference to science, even a hostility to science in some quarters. That’s also my impression in the United States. Of course, there are other parts of the world where science and technology are absolutely front and center. Let me give you a good example: South Korea. I was invited to go there for something called the Seoul Digital Forum, as a result of my work on “Interstellar.” The first speaker at this event was the president of [South] Korea. The second speaker was the secretary general of the United Nations. And I was the third speaker. This was televised throughout Korea, and it was part of the Korean government’s effort to mobilize the general population in terms of getting young people interested in science and technology. They viewed people as their only major natural resource, their biggest natural resource. And inspiring children to become interested in science and technology — whether they were going to be scientists or not — to have an educated populace was a central goal. I was amazed at that when I saw it in Korea. Yeah, so we do have a problem in the United States today. More here. [...]



Parse The Word ‘Merit’

2017-11-23T04:05:00Z

P. Vijaya Kumar in Outlook India: ‘Check your privilege’, a phrase most often directed at cocky white males in America, never gained traction in India, probably because the equivalent of the privileged white male in India—the upper caste, English educated,...P. Vijaya Kumar in Outlook India: ‘Check your privilege’, a phrase most often directed at cocky white males in America, never gained traction in India, probably because the equivalent of the privileged white male in India—the upper caste, English educated, affluent, entitled urbanite—instinctively shunned it. But most of them have also ignored the venerable Socratic exhortation ‘know thyself’. Until now, it would seem. Namit Arora’s wonderful collection of essays does both and, in the process, opens our eyes to the state of our land and civilisation at a crucial time in our history. The book is made up of 15 brilliant essays on the subject of India and inequality. Some themes dominate—the English language, colonisation, Hinduism, the caste system, nationalism and Ambedkar. Arora’s probing introduction tells us something few successful Indians will acknowledge—success is often not earned, but the result of the luck of being born in the right family. An intelligent analysis will show this, but most people pass off inherited advantages as ‘merit’. Unless this changes, and attempts made to create a level playing field, there will never be meaningful social change in India. More here. [...]



Stress, Portrait of a Killer: the quest of Robert Sapolsky to understand the effects of stress

2017-11-23T04:02:00Z

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Michelangelo Exploded Art History

2017-11-22T14:50:52Z

Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine: The Metropolitan Museum’s “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer” is a stupendous metaphysical-visual exhalation. Somewhere amid the High Renaissance master’s drawings, time and mediums piled up for me, and art’s house was set on fire....Jerry Saltz at New York Magazine: The Metropolitan Museum’s “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer” is a stupendous metaphysical-visual exhalation. Somewhere amid the High Renaissance master’s drawings, time and mediums piled up for me, and art’s house was set on fire. The show burns, from Michelangelo’s time, into the past — with his rediscoveries and reinterpretations of Classical Greek and Roman art. It also simultaneously convulses forward, into sensibilities then unknown — breaching the exaggerations of Mannerism and the cinematic Baroque, into the cauldrons of brooding Romanticism, part-by-part Impressionism even into the shadows of our own existentialism. The tightly constructed survey, organized by the Met’s Dr. Carmen C. Bambach in 14 chronological galleries, is an exhibition in turns exhausting and exhilarating. It is esoteric in its relentless focus on drawing, and you really have to get up close to these works to wholly imbibe them — which will be difficult given crowds; also Michelangelo’s are not works on paper that we love or covet like those of Seurat, van Gogh, Goya, Hiroshige, Wang Hui, Bill Traylor, or Rembrandt; Michelangelo leaves us thunderstruck, his work almost alien.  more here. [...]



René Magritte, fifty years on

2017-11-22T14:48:16Z

Roderick Conway Morris at the TLS: René Magritte, surely the most humane and witty of all Surrealist artists, died at the age of sixty-eight, half a century ago this year. He enjoyed international recognition and financial security only during the...Roderick Conway Morris at the TLS: René Magritte, surely the most humane and witty of all Surrealist artists, died at the age of sixty-eight, half a century ago this year. He enjoyed international recognition and financial security only during the last fifteen years of his life, and his reputation has continued to grow abroad. He is now seen as perhaps the greatest Belgian artist of the twentieth century. In 2009, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, which owns the largest single collection of his works, opened the five-floor Magritte Museum within its own walls in his home town, Brussels. This institutional act of homage had been anticipated by a local devotee of the artist, André Garitte, who – against considerable odds and official indifference – managed in 1992 to buy the apartment where Magritte and his wife Georgette lived during the key years 1930–54. He turned it into the René Magritte Museum, which, after much voluntary work by enthusiasts, opened its doors in 1999. Any past sins of omission are currently being further expiated with various events marking the fiftieth anniversary of Magritte’s death.  more here. [...]



What Is the Political Responsibility of the Artist?

2017-11-22T14:44:03Z

Taylor Plimpton at The Paris Review: Perhaps no modern writer has experienced as much political turmoil and upheaval as the great Polish storyteller Ryszard Kapuscinski. Take, for instance, his claim that during his time serving as a reporter and war...Taylor Plimpton at The Paris Review: Perhaps no modern writer has experienced as much political turmoil and upheaval as the great Polish storyteller Ryszard Kapuscinski. Take, for instance, his claim that during his time serving as a reporter and war correspondent, he witnessed twenty-seven coups and revolutions and was sentenced to death four times. One might expect Kapuscinski to have a particularly informed response to the question that seems to be on so many people’s minds these days: What, if any, is the social or political responsibility of the artist? Or, to put it another way: Should writers be writing for a cause? Penned thirty-five years ago, Shah of Shahs is Kapuscinski’s retelling of the most notorious revolution that he ever experienced firsthand—the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The book is a brilliant, nuanced portrait of a country and its corrupt leader in the tumultuous days leading up to and following his removal from power. Yet, upon close examination of the text, it seems that the author’s allegiance isn’t to any political party or ideology or cause—he is as harsh a critic of the powers that toppled the Shah as he is of the Shah himself. Instead, his allegiance is simply to art, and to the truth. more here. [...]